Social and environmental transitions in arid zones: the North Gujarat Archaeological Project — NoGAP

M. Madella, P. Ajithprasad, C. Lancelotti, B. Rondelli, A. Balbo, C. French, D. Rodríguez, J.J. García-Granero, V. Yannitto, S.V. Rajesh, C.S. Gadekar & I. Briz

Figure 1
Figure 1. South Asia, the Indus Valley and the area of study in north Gujarat (rectangle).
Click to enlarge.
Introduction

Archaeological survey recently conducted in north Gujarat (Figure 1) has revealed the existence of dozens of previously unknown Anarta, Sorath Harappan and Harappan as well as Mesolithic sites (Ajithprasad & Sonawane 1994; Ajithprasad 2004). This 'peripheral' area of the Indus civilisation is of great potential for the understanding of land-use strategies, co-existence and evolution over time (Ajithprasad 2004; Madella & Fuller 2006; Patel 2009). The importance of the area also lies in newly available evidence that argues for the occurrence of local cultivation systems based on native crops such as small millets (Panicum and Setaria) (Fuller & Madella 2001; Fuller 2006). Furthermore, domestic cattle were part of the economy of north Gujarat as early as the beginning of the fourth millennium cal BC (Patel 2009: 177, tbl. 1) and the broad distribution of wild cattle in the north-west of south Asia suggests that there might have been local centres of domestication for this species. Remains of wild cattle were recently found during excavation within the Mesolithic deposits at Loteshwar (dated between the end of the eighth millennium cal BC and the middle of the sixth millennium cal BC), clearly suggesting that these animals were available to the local hunter-gatherer population (Patel 2009: 177, tbl. 1).


The project

The Northern Gujarat Archaeological Project (NoGAP) is a new collaborative initiative between Spain and India, and promotes an interdisciplinary approach, integrating environmental, archaeological and ethnoarchaeological data for studying social contacts, resource use and cultural landscape in a long-term perspective. The programme includes:

  1. The excavation of a set of key sites within north Gujarat to create a broad dataset from anthropic deposits.
  2. Extensive geoarchaeological (Figure 2) and vegetation surveys (Figure 3).
  3. The systematic recovery of bioarchaeological remains (charred macros, charcoals, animal bones, phytoliths and starch) highlighting trajectories of domestication and human-environment interactions.
  4. Sedimentological and micromorphological analyses to unravel site formation processes and taphonomy.
  5. The study of traditional activities in contemporary pastoral and agricultural settlements to support the pattern recognition and analysis of site formation and activity signatures (Figure 4). Ethnoarchaeological work in north Gujarat has been carried out in Nagwada and Jhandala where crop processing and traditional building activities have been recorded and sampled for physical, chemical and residue (plant micro and macro-remains) analyses to create a signature dataset.
  6. All information to be put together in a Geographical Information System (GIS) to analyse spatio-temporal relationships.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Distribution of north Gujarat archaeological sites highlighting the sites mentioned in text, the geoarchaeological sampling points and the geoarchaeological transect from the Little Rann of Kutch to the Aravalli hills.
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Figure 3
Figure 3. Plant samples (wood, leaves, etc) for reference collection. Salvadora oleoides (main frame), Acacia nilotica (A), Calotropis procera (B), Capparis sp. (C), Cassia sophora (D).
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Figure 4
Figure 4. Some of the activities, structures and materials recorded from the traditional villages of Nagwada and Jhandala. From left to right: wall/floor plastering, fireplaces, non-food plant products, production of charcoal for fuel.
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First results

The first geoarchaeological reconnaissance and vegetation survey in north Gujarat took place in March 2008 and concentrated on the landscapes associated with four major groups of Mesolithic/Chalcolithic and Harappan sites (Figure 2): 1) Loteshwar in the Khari River Valley; 2) Moti Pipli in the Banas River Valley; 3) the Suneth to Datrana transect on the peninsula separating the Great and Little Rann of Kutch; and 4) the fortified Chalcolithic site at Shikarpur near the Great Rann.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Example of different scale thematic maps produced to analyse the landscape characteristics and the resource distribution. The main land cover units, such as geomorphology, vegetation and land-use were identified using classification on Landsat and Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection (ASTER) (pre-monsoon, monsoon and post-monsoon) imagery (A and B). The obtained classes are then integrated in GIS with Digital Elevation Model (DEM) data and topographical information obtained from Soviet military topographic maps and CORONA imagery (C). Finally, detailed topographical survey (D) of investigated sites are also added in a multi-scalar perspective. The example in here is the topographical survey of the dune (contour line 0.2m) with the excavated site of Loteshwar (red square).
Click to enlarge.

Figure 6
Figure 6. An early morning view of the Khari River (dry and with salt pans) and behind the low dune with the site of Loteshwar (yellow dot).
Click to enlarge.

Figure 7
Figure 7. A view of the north-west corner of Trench V in Loteshwar. Clearly visible are the Mesolithic deposits (darker) and the overlaying Chalcolithic deposits with the pit structure lined with phytolith at the bottom.
Click to enlarge.

A second geoarchaeological reconaissance and sampling season was carried out in October-November 2009 focusing on: 1) the landscape surrounding Loteshwar and 2) the systematic surface sampling of soils and sediments across a 150km transept from the eastern edge of the Little Rann of Kutch to the foothills of the Aravalli Range for a preliminary geomorphological mapping (Figure 2). Remote sensing techniques were used to support the production of the geoarchaeological map (Figure 5) to detect and classify main land cover and landform characteristics, sediments, soils and ecological variability of the investigated area (Siart et al. 2008). All the heterogeneous data collected through the project's activities are integrated in a GIS to analyse environmental features and settlement patterns, as well as to reconstruct the archaeological landscape and model the resource exploitation strategies.

The first site to be investigated within the NoGAP project was Loteshwar (Figure 6). The site is located on top of a stabilised dune about 500m from the Khari River and the stratigraphy includes Mesolithic (Patel 2009) and Chalcolithic deposits (Figure 7). The Mesolithic deposits provided geometric and non-geometric microlithics, faunal remains and palette stones. The Chalcolithic was characterised by shallow deposits not more than 0.9m below the current surface and rather conspicuous pits of more than 6m³ in volume with Anarta pottery, terracotta objects (including a figurine), steatite micro-beads, bangles, clay lumps with reed impressions, charred wood and animal bones.

Acknowledgements

The NoGAP project is supported by grants from Generalitat de Catalunya (2008 PBR 00064), Ministry of Culture (Spain — SGIPCE/ACF/cmm) and Ministry of Education (Spain — SB2009-0060). The project is also grateful to Oscar Pujol, director of the Instituto Cervantes New Delhi, for his warm welcome in India. Finally, thanks to Rekha Rodwittiya, Kim Kyoungae and Surendran Nair for their unfaltering support while in Baroda.

References

  • AJITHPRASAD, P. 2004. Holocene adaptations of the Mesolithic and Chalcolithic settlements in north Gujarat, in Y. Yasuda & Vasant Shinde (ed.) Monsoon and civilizations: 115-132. New Delhi: Roli Books.
  • AJITHPRASAD, P. & V.H. SONAWANE. 1994. Harappa culture and Gujarat. Man and Environment 20(1-2): 37-49.
  • FULLER, D.Q. 2006. Agricultural origins and frontiers in south Asia: a working synthesis. Jounal of World Prehistory 20(1): 1-86.
  • FULLER, D.Q. & M. MADELLA. 2001. Issues in Harappan archaeobotany: retrospect and prospect, in S. Settar & R. Korisettar (ed.) Indian Archaeology in Retrospect, Volume II. Protohistory: 317-90. New Dehli: Publications of the Indian Council for Historical Research & Manohar.
  • MADELLA, M. & D.Q. FULLER. 2006. Palaeoecology and the Harappan civilization of south Asia: a reconsideration. Quaternary Science Reviews 25(11-12): 1283-301.
  • PATEL, A.K. 2009. Occupational histories, settlements, and subsistence in western India: what bones and genes can tell us about the origins and spread of pastoralism. Anthropozoology 44(1): 173-88.
  • SIART, C., B. EITEL & D. PANAGIOTOPOULOS. 2008. Investigation of past archaeological landscapes using remote sensing and GIS: a multi-method case study from Mount Ida, Crete. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 2918-26.

Authors

* Author for correspondence.

  • M. Madella*
    ICREA - Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institució Milà i Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), C/Egipcíaques, 15 - 08001 Barcelona, Spain (Email: marco.madella@icrea.es)
  • P. Ajithprasad
    Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, MS University of Baroda, Vadodara 390002 Gujarat, India
  • C. Lancelotti
    Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK
  • B. Rondelli
    Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institució Milà i Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), C/Egipcíaques, 15 - 08001 Barcelona, Spain
  • A. Balbo
    Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institució Milà i Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), C/Egipcíaques, 15 - 08001 Barcelona, Spain
  • C. French
    Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK
  • D. Rodríguez
    Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institució Milà i Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), C/Egipcíaques, 15 - 08001 Barcelona, Spain
  • J.J. Garcia-Granero
    Department of Prehistory, Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Barcelona, C/Montalegre 6 - 08001 Barcelona, Spain; Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institució Milà i Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), C/Egipcíaques, 15 - 08001 Barcelona, Spain
  • V. Yannitto
    Department of Prehistory, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Building B - 08193 Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain; Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institució Milà i Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), C/Egipcíaques, 15 - 08001 Barcelona, Spain
  • S.V. Rajesh
    Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, MS University of Baroda, Vadodara 390002 Gujarat, India
  • C.S. Gadekar
    Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, MS University of Baroda, Vadodara 390002 Gujarat, India
  • I. Briz
    ICREA - Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institució Milà i Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), C/Egipcíaques, 15 - 08001 Barcelona, Spain